The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1946 Page 1 of 3

Up or Down?

I felt a large hand descend on my shoulder.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 2, 1946.

“Squabble, squabble,” muttered Jimmie Frise, “always squabbling!” “Who?” I inquired.

We had got a seat in the street car, and Jim had settled comfortably to read the front page of the newspaper.

“Everybody,” replied Jim. “Squabbles at all levels. Nations squabbling. Provinces squabbling. Cities squabbling. Counties, townships. Sections of cities. Employer versus employee. Husband against wife…”

“You’re reading the news, Jim,” I explained. “Turn to the sporting pages…”

“More squabbles,” said Jim. “What is sport but organized squabbles?”

“Okay, then,” I chuckled, “turn to the comics.”

“Comics?” scoffed Jim. “Tragics, you mean! Nothing but squabbles there. Even the laughs are got with squabbles.”

“Of course,” I explained, “after all, Jim, life itself is a contest. The very essence of life is conflict. It isn’t only among human beings. There isn’t a single living creature, not even a tree, not even grass, that does not live by conflict.”

“Just look at this front page!” said Jim, spreading the paper out. “Look! The nations gathered together to find peace. And they are fighting like tigers. Look! A wife shoots her husband! And here one province says that other provinces are trying to rob her. Here – two giant trucks collide on highway. I suppose the two drivers were each trying to hog the centre of the road.”

“We human beings,” I submitted, “may look like monsters. But you ought to see what goes on in wild nature. Not a tree grows but has fought to the death hundreds of its brothers. The seeds of a maple fall. They germinate and take root. From that instant, it is a battle to the death among these infant maples. They try to strangle each other’s roots. They try to smother each other by cutting off the sunlight and air. I’ll say this for infant human beings: they aren’t bloodthirsty like the young of most other living creatures.”

“I guess babies are about the only really decent human beings,” agreed Jim.

“Only when they are helpless and lying on their backs,” I pointed out. “Put two babies old enough to crawl in the same crib, and they immediately start demonstrating that life is a struggle. They try to rob each other. They poke each other in the eye with their fingers. As soon as they get two teeth, they seem to know what they are for, and sink them into the fat little hind leg of the other baby…”

“Holy smoke,” protested Jim. “Isn’t there anything in the world that is really peaceful? How about music?”

“Haw, music!” I snorted. “You make music by the conflict of hair from a horse’s tail scraped across a string made of sheep’s gut. You create music by the conflict of human wind trying to escape through a brass tube, and the vibration of its efforts to escape makes the music. You get the whole foundation of music in the rhythm, which is produced by pounding a drumstick on a stretched sheep’s hide. Music peaceful!”

“Flowers?” pleaded Jim anxiously.

“Like the maple tree infant I mentioned,” I stated, “a flower is the product of a vicious unseen battle, from the tiny seed to the triumphant bush that has beaten all its kith and kin back into the soil to feed it. The very best food for plants is the humus of other plants that have been destroyed in the battle of life.”

“Well…” sighed Jim a little desperately, turning the page and examining page two with eager hope.

“We are always looking for peace, Jim,” I philosophized, “when, as a matter of simple fact, we ought to be looking for controlled and organized conflict. Nowhere in the living world is there peace, or anything like it. We human beings ought to recognize that fact and start working out an entirely new philosophy of life.”

An Eternal Struggle

“Isn’t somebody always trying to do that?” demanded Jim.

“No; so far,” I pointed out, “everybody with a new philosophy or a new political scheme promises peace at the end of it. To bring industrial peace… says one. You might as well bring silent music. You might as well try to think of motionless movement. Industry itself is conflict.”

“And we can’t live without industry,” proffered Jim.

“So we can’t live without conflict,” I wound up. “Therefore, that the whole world has to agree on is -conflict is basic. Now let us organize and control conflict for the common good.”

“Yeah,” laughed Jimmie, “and what is the common good? That’s like the question Pontius Pilate asked.”

“The common good,” I explained, “is food and shelter.”

“Food and shelter!” cried Jim. “Do you call that the common good?”

“I do,” I asserted. “Absolutely guarantee food and shelter to every human being everywhere, every day, without fail, without the possibility of failure – and you’ve got the world by the tail.”

“What nonsense,” scoffed Jim. “Why, life consists of a thousand things…”

“No, sir,” I cut in. “Food and shelter is the secret of it all. Give every living human being guaranteed, unfailing food and shelter, every day of their lives. From there on, they will branch up into the thousand and one other things of life. They can cook the food well, or cook it poorly. They can make themselves nice homes or they can continue to dwell in slovenly hovels. They can be ambitious and build cathedrals, great cities; or they can just lie around in the sun, doing nothing, and waiting for the next guaranteed meal. But – the way the world is now, the tragic struggle for food and shelter is essential to our whole way of life. There are millions of men who truly and passionately believe that if you didn’t force the common man to struggle for his food and shelter, nobody would do ANY work.”

“I begin to see your point,” admitted Jim.

“If you didn’t make the masses of mankind worry,” I went on, “about where their next meal was coming from, or how they were going to pay the rent, why, you couldn’t hire anybody to work for you for love or money.”

“Well, neither you could,” asserted Jim. “You give everybody a house for nothing, and guarantee him food, as you say, every day, without fail – and how many of us would go to work?”

“There, Mr. Frise,” I triumphed, “I have you! You are guilty of blasphemy. As a Christian, you admit that men are made in God’s image. So you proceed on the assumption that they are made in the devil’s image and treat them like dogs. You deny them the simplest fundamentals, food and shelter, and then say to them – now work, you devils, or else starve and freeze to death.”

“Not me,” interrupted Jimmie. “I didn’t. say that!”

“But when you assume,” I pursued, “that if you gave all men, everywhere, in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, their shelter and food guaranteed, none of them would go to work, you say it.”

“A lot of them wouldn’t,” insisted Jim.

“A lot of them don’t now,” I pointed out. “But by far the vast majority of men have as urgent a desire to work, to be doing something, as they have to eat or to be warm. If for no other reason than to escape from the wife and kids during the day, plenty of men will take a job. But in the great mass of mankind there is a natural instinct to work, to do something, to create something. In our present social system, we ignore that basic instinct. We threaten all mankind with starvation and death from exposure, unless he works.”

“We Need Some Air”

“Well, how can it be changed?” demanded Jim.

“It’s being changed right under your nose,” I announced. “All over the world. All the ‘isms’ are doing nothing else but changing that basic error. Trades unionism, socialism, communism – all the ‘isms’ are the expression of the common man’s decision that he isn’t going to be starved and frozen to death any more. It would be hard to say how many human beings have been starved and frozen to death in past centuries due to this highly respected belief. I bet a hundred thousand, nay, maybe a million human beings have perished from the consequences of poor diet or exposure, for one who has died in war.”

“Probably so,” agreed Jim.

“Yet, we are struggling furiously to correct war,” I submitted, “and at the same time struggling furiously to maintain the old theory that if you don’t work, you starve.”

“You have a dirty way,” accused Jimmie, “of presenting the case.”

“I find this street car,” I digressed, “very stuffy, don’t you?”

“You’ve got yourself all worked up,” explained Jim. “If you’re going to make speeches on the social system, you ought to wear lighter underwear.”

“I’m going to open this window a bit,” I said, reaching up and taking hold of the winder that winds the street car window up.

Outside it was a nice, crisp afternoon. I wound the window up four inches and a refreshing gush of sweet air blew in.

“Aha, that’s better, I heaved, taking a good breath. “Well, Jim, the whole human problem is getting clearer, week by week, month by month.”

“It sure is,” chuckled Jimmie, nudging me and nodding towards the lady sitting in front of us. She was very ostentatiously shrugging her shoulders and pulling her collar up around her neck.

“A little fresh air,” I said, “never hurt anybody. This car is foggy, it’s so stuffy. As I was saying. Jim, one thing about all the conflict of ideas raging in the world today, it’s bound to work us nearer to some sort of understanding of the basic problems. And I think one of the basic…”

“Would you mind,” suddenly said the lady in front, turning sharply around, “shutting that window, please?”

“Pardon me,” I said, “but this car is positively steamy. Don’t you find it too warm?”

“I’ve just got out of bed from the flu,” said the lady tartly.

“I’ll run it down a little,” I agreed.

I wound the window down to two inches. “Is that better now, madam?” I inquired solicitously.

She waited a moment and then said: “I don’t feel it blowing on me now, thank you.”

“The basic thing they are going to discover, Jim,” I resumed, “as the result of all this world-wide conflict of ideas, is that lawless enterprise, whether by individuals, or companies or nations, can no longer be tolerated. And lawless enterprise simply can’t exist, unless it has vast numbers of slave workers at its command, living in daily fear for their food and shelter.”

I felt something brush my hat from behind, and then noticed the window beside me, which was open only two inches, quietly closing.

I turned quickly, and saw the man who sat behind me, standing up, leaning over and calmly winding the handle over my head.

The handle, I might say, of MY window. I sat for a minute thinking. Then I calmly reached up, and wound the window up two inches.

“Listen, windbag,” said a voice right in my ear – in fact, he leaned forward and spoke under the brim of my hat – “that breeze is blowing right back on me.”

“This is my window,” I retorted. “I’m sitting here.”

“Try, the window ahead of you, squirt,” said the voice under my hat brim, “and see, how it feels, blowing icicles on you.”

“I don’t intend to smother,” I asserted.

“And I,” said the voice, “don’t intend to freeze.”

Might versus Right

And he stood up, leaned forward and proceeded to wind the window down.

I looked at Jim. He was deeply engrossed in the sport page. But there was a curious expression on his face.

He seemed to be listening and watching and holding his breath.

I braced myself, reached up and took hold of the handle. I started to wind. And as I did so, I felt a large hand descend on my shoulder, another hand seized my wrist and wrenched it from the knob.

The man was not merely bigger than I, he was standing up and had the advantage of me. I struggled. But he won. He wound the window shut.

“Good for you,” called the lady sitting in front of me.

And several others joined in various growls, mutters and snorts of approval for my adversary.

What can you do when you are the victim of indignity?

I sat for a moment, watching Jim out of the corner of my eye. He seemed engrossed in the racing news. He seemed not to notice what was going on around him.

“Jim,” I said, “is this a free country, or isn’t it? Are you going to sit there and be smothered to death?”

“Smothered,” said Jim heavily, “starved or frozen to death – that seems to be the destiny of us all.”

“You’re laughing.” I charged.

“Who? Me?” protested Jim.

I suddenly got mad. I reached up and wound the window a foot wide.

The man behind me did not seize my shoulder this time.

He took the flat of his big hand and brought it down on top of my hat. With his full weight, he squashed me down in my seat, my hat shoved over my eyes and nose. And he held me there while he wound the window shut.

He leaned down and spoke to me before taking his hand off the top of my head.

“Listen, Shorty,” he gritted, “you touch, that window once more, and I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll take you and shove you through the window!”

He sat back. I slowly erected myself and straightened my hat.

All around, I could hear laughter, chuckles, snickers and comments of a highly approving character.

“Jim,” I said, rising, “I’m not staying on this car another instant. If a citizen can be subjected to such indignity in public and with such complete public approval…”

“Hire a hall,” said a lady across the aisle.

I pulled the bell cord and walked to the exit. Jim followed.

“It’s only four blocks,” said Jim, as the car moved away. “The walk will do us good.”

“I couldn’t get into a fight with the guy,” I protested excitedly. “He was twice my size. Why didn’t you show more spunk?”

“Weeelll,” cogitated Jimmie, as we set off homeward on foot, “to tell the truth, I couldn’t just figure out which side I was on.”

“Jim, the car stank, it was so stuffy,” I cried. “As a measure of public health, as a sanitary measure, Jim, I opened that window. In the public welfare…”

“Yeah,” pondered Jim, adjusting his long stride to my short one, “the public welfare. You see, some of those people had light underwear on and some heavy. Some were warm-blooded people like you, and others were cold-blooded like me.”

“I was smothering,” I asserted.

“And the guy behind you was freezing,” said Jim. “It’s hard to adjust temperature to please everybody. It’s hard to adjust anything to please everybody. It depends so much on how much clothing you’ve got on, how much food you’ve eaten, and whether you are hot or cold by nature…”

“Ah, squabble, squabble, squabble…” I admitted.

Spuds Unlimited

“What do you think of those, neighbor?” cried Jim, holding up a champion for Potter to see.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 28, 1946.

“Neighbors,” submitted Jimmie Frise, “can be very trying.”

“Speak for yourself, Jim,” I informed him. “I never have the slightest difficulty with my neighbors.”

“Oh, I don’t mean I’m having any actual trouble,” explained Jim hastily. “It’s just about my potatoes.”

“Haven’t you got those potatoes dug yet!” I cried.

“The way the weather’s been…” muttered Jim.

“Why, my dear man,” I expostulated, “they will be rotten. They’ll be all scabs. It’s the end of September!”

“The last ones I looked at,” said Jim, “were about the size of marbles. Maybe a few as big as ping-pong balls.”

“Leave them in the ground,” I advised. “Dig them in as compost for next year. And next year, for Pete’s sake, plant asters or zinnias. The war’s over. You don’t have to grow vegetables now.”

“That’s where the neighbors come in,” explained Jim. “Potter, next door, as you know, is a real gardener.”

“He’s got a very pretty place,” I admitted, “but that’s all he does. He doesn’t go fishing. The garden’s his hobby.”

“That’s what I mean about neighbors,” said Jim. “They set a standard. And everybody around has to live up to it, or be shamed. If one guy paints his house, everybody on the street has to paint his house.”

“Keeping up with the Joneses,” I smiled.

“Well, in the case of Potter, it’s worse,” declared Jim. “He is always working in his garden. Wake up at 6 a.m. and there’s Potter quietly toiling in his garden. Twenty-fourth of May, Dominion Day, Civic Holiday, Labor Day, when you come home from fishing, there’s Potter’s garden all trimmed and weeded, the plants tied up neatly, the topsoil forked and dressed… looking like a show place.”

“It’s his hobby.” I insisted.

“Well, then,” hunted Jimmie anxiously through his mind, “it’s a way he has of standing, smoking a cigar, with a smug, satisfied expression, and looking into my garden….”

“You’re proud of the fish you catch,” I countered. “Don’t you ever feel a little smug, standing over a nice catch of trout laid out on the ground?”

“Yes, but Potter never looks at my trout, when I happen to take them out in the back yard when I come home from a fishing trip,” explained Jim. “If I call his attention to them, he just sniffs and says he can’t go for fish of any kind.”

“All right, why do you bother about your garden then?” I demanded. “Whenever you see Potter gloating over his garden, just sniff and say that gardening is for old maids.”

“Yeah, but…” worried Jim.

“My boy,” I proceeded, “I think the way we millions of human beings can live in complete harmony and indifference to another, cheek by jowl, is the greatest triumph of society. Here we are, all over the civilized world, millions upon millions of us, living not only in houses jammed right up against each other, but often in apartments and duplexes, on top of and underneath each other. Yet, to all intents and purposes, we act as if there were nobody living within miles of us.”

“It is kind of wonderful,” admitted Jim.

Sneering Across the Fence

“When you think of the natural warlike nature of all men and women,” I went on. “When you think how we struggle, hour by hour and day by day, to get ahead of each other in all kinds of business! When you think of the disagreeable characteristics we display towards members of our own families, towards our relatives, towards those we work with in office, shop and factory all day long, isn’t it a marvel the way we live in a community, without ever coming to blows? Why, a great many millions of us don’t even know the names of the people living three doors away from us, or directly across the street.”

“That’s a fact,” exclaimed Jimmie.

“Don’t know their names,” I pursued, “and don’t care. We respect each other. We are careful at all times to respect their rights. We keep quiet, so as not to disturb them. We keep our houses and premises tidy and in order. So do they. We cut our grass, keep our garbage cans hidden, and conform in every way to the rules of society. But we don’t know who they are, what they do – and don’t care!”

“By golly, that’s a fact…” pondered Jim.

“It may be,” I continued, “that the very man we gyp in a smart business deal is that unknown neighbor, four doors north. We might be so slick in business that we ruin somebody. And maybe that somebody we ruin is the elderly gent across the road, directly across, whom we’ve never spoken to in eight years.”

“And are careful not to speak to,” added Jim.

“Exactly,” I cried. “In business, in our trade or calling, the more people we know, the more people we contact, the better off we are. Then we come home at 6 o’clock to our homes and immediately change into a basically different creature, who doesn’t want to know anybody on the street.”

“A man’s home is his castle,” expounded Jim. “Maybe the secret of the success of society – if it has been a success – is this queer characteristic of walling ourselves up in our homes, though our homes are actually attached, like the cells in a bee’s nest, to all the other homes in the city.”

“All I can say,” I wound up, “is, when you consider the curious, inquisitive, greedy, possessive, intruding nature of mankind generally, it is a world wonder the way we have succeeded in building our towns and cities like bees’ hives, yet remaining as aloof from one another as though we all were hermits in the depths of lonely forests.”

“It would be a great thing,” sighed Jim, “if the nations of the world could mind their own business the same way…”

“Yeah,” I smiled, “but some Potter would always sneer across the fence…”

“He’s just waiting,” gritted Jimmie, “to see me dig those potatoes. I feel he’s watching every day, to see me dig them…”

“Why don’t you dig them at night?” I asked.

“And give him the satisfaction,” cried Jim, “of knowing I had ducked him?”

“How did you come to plant those potatoes anyway?” I demanded. “You’ve got no room for a vegetable garden. Your back yard is fit for nothing but a few little flower beds.”

“Well, in the spring,” complained Jim, “you know how it is. In April? The fishing season hasn’t opened. The air is sort of… sort of balmy and full of quivers and queer impulses. Well, there’s Potter, like a man in love, furiously at work in his garden. He’s raking, spading, forking. He’s trimming the climbing roses. He’s uncovering little muddy lumps in the earth and bending over them like a surgeon engaged in a major operation. Those little muddy lumps are his perennials, and he’s had them under mulch and straw all winter…”

“You shouldn’t let it get you, Jim,” I assured. “When you see Potter working in his garden in April, you should rush up to the attic and get your tackle box out and start sorting your fishing tackle out on the back steps, where he can see you.”

“Potter,” declared Jim angrily, “sets the whole block on fire. First, those of us nearest see him. Then we start raking and spading and tidying up. Then, farther up and down the street, others see us. And so it spreads, until the whole block is working like mad, in the moist April evenings…”

“Potter,” I submitted, “is a very good influence in the neighborhood.”

“Last spring,” pursued Jim, “he set aside the whole bottom end of his garden to tiny plots of very choice vegetables. On one side, some kind of great big southern tomato. Then onions. Then cress and pepper grass. In the middle, a little plot no bigger than a writing desk, to herbs!”

“Herbs, eh?” I inquired lively.

“Sweet basil, marjoram, parsley, fennel, a lot of queer herbs you never heard of…” said Jim.

“I bet Potter eats very tasty dishes,” I smacked.

“Well,” concluded Jim, “when I saw his vegetable garden, I dug up that patch in my place and planted potatoes…”

“You have no imagination, Jim,” I assured. “Potatoes!”

“Nothing I like better in this world, as I told Potter,” said Jim, “than a great big baked potato, big and mealy, with a little butter and French dressing dribbled into it…”

“French dressing!” I protested.

“Oil and vinegar,” said Jim, “about a teaspoonful of French dressing and a little bit of butter. You cut an X in the baked potato, loosen it up your fork, then dribble a little French dressing and butter down into it… man, at this time of year, you never tasted anything so good!”

“You told Potter this?” I inquired.

“Yes, groaned Jim, “and all summer, whenever we talked over the fence, he would inquire how the big baked potatoes were coming along…”

“They didn’t come along very good,” I recollected.

“By the end of August, hardly any tops left…” sighed Jim.

A Neighborly Jolt

I sat thinking about Potter, and his cigar, snickering over the fence at Jimmie’s poor sunburned garden.

“Jim,” I said, “I think the Potter type should get a little jolt now and then. Nothing worse than a smug neighbor.”

“He’s unjoltable,” sighed Jim. “He’s an expert in all he’s interested in. And he is totally uninterested in anything he isn’t expert in.”

“I know the type,” I mused. “Let’s see. How about this? How about us buying a bag of the biggest Idaho potatoes we can lay hands on. Tonight, when it’s good and dark, you and I quietly, veeeerrry quietly, go out and dig up all those poor little marbles of yours, and replant the big Idahos…”

Jim was on his feet cheering and waving his arms.

We went to the fruit market and hunted around until we found a bag of the most enormous, beautiful great big pallid potatoes you ever saw. They looked more like people than potatoes. You may have seen such beauties. A sort of Indian tan buckskin or rawhide color. They had eyes that fairly looked you in the eye. You could imagine them winking at you.

“Them,” said the potato expert from whom we bought the bag, “are the best potatoes in the world. They bake to the most beautiful flour…”

We smuggled the bag in the side drive, which is on the opposite side of Jim’s house from Potter’s. We took them down to the cellar and gloated over them. It was dim in the cellar, so we failed to notice that about every 10th potato had a purple trade mark stamped on it, a ring with the grower’s name.

After supper, we saw Potter and his wife leave in their car. To make certain, we waited until dark. And when no light showed in Potter’s house, we proceeded stealthily to the garden and set to work. With a garden fork, we opened Jim’s long-neglected hills, and found what we expected – poor little marbles, ping-pong balls and robins’ eggs of potatoes, most of them withered and mushy to the touch, many of them just a scab and a good many of them semi-liquid. We combed with the fork and by hand until we had found every last one and carted them to the back of the garden under the syringa bushes, where we buried them in a common grave.

Then, having carefully set to one side of each hill the withered remnants of the potato tops, we re-dug good big holes and planted the swollen and incomparable Idahos.

In some hills we put four, in some six, and here and there, nearest the Potter fence, we buried eight or nine.

“The earth’s a little moist,” whispered Jim, “and it’ll stick to ’em…”

After the planting, we set the withered tops back in realistic ruin. And we patted the hills into shape, and with the fork and a broom, as best we could in the dark, we roughed everything up to give it the characteristic appearance, of neglect it had originally.

During the night, a sprinkle of rain fell, and when I called for Jim in the morning, he took me around to behold our handiwork. If ever a few hills of potatoes looked unpromising, sad and forlorn, these did.

It developed into a fine afternoon, and Jim and I were in the garden about supper time when Potter came into his garden to stand, in appreciative glory, amid his still continuing flora: dahlias, zinnias and incredibly beautiful little throw rugs of nasturtiums, yellow, crimson, orange.

Jim proceeded to the potato patch, fork in hand.

“Hel-LO!” cried Potter, suddenly, over the fence. “Do you mean to tell me you’re going to dig your Idahos?”

“I don’t think I need to leave them in any longer, do you?” inquired Jim earnestly.

“Heh, heh, heh,” laughed Potter, coming over and leaning delicately on the fence. “This is going to be SOMETHING!”

“How do you mean?” inquired Jim innocently, while I arrived with a bushel basket and some smaller containers.

“I’ve been waiting all September to see you dig those spuds,” said Potter amiably. “Say, shouldn’t I call in some of the neighbors–?”

“Do you mean-” asked Jim uncertainly, “do you mean I won’t GET any potatoes–?”

“Look,” said Potter, “I told you last spring not to plant potatoes in that soil. You’ve got no soil at all there. You’ve never cultivated it or fertilized it. Besides, it’s totally unfit for potatoes.”

Out Popped the Idahos

He blew cigar smoke into the air and looked us both in the eye with the wisdom of the expert.

“But–” Jim protested, very dejected, “I remember the guy I bought the seed potatoes from, he said they’d grow anywhere-“

“It really gives me a laugh,” said Potter, kindly, “to see the efforts of people around here to try and make a garden. Why, gardening is an art. You don’t just stick seeds in the ground and expect… Why, look at my place here! There’s the result of art and science. And any amount of hard work. First, you take samples of the soil, at different depths, topsoil, subsoil, and have them analyzed by the government. Then–“

While he was talking, Jim, with the absent air of a man deeply disappointed, stuck the fork into the first hill, went good and deep under the dry and withered stalks of the tops straggling over the earth, and pried up.

And up popped four or five of the most magnificent ldahos any man ever cut an X in.

They seemed to pop, to burst, to bounce. out of the hill.

“HEL-lo!” cried Jim delightedly.

Potter so nearly swallowed his cigar that he had to grab for it with both hands.

“Well, well, WELL!” I exclaimed, kneeling and beginning promptly to pick the spuds up and toss them into the bushel basket.

Jim, as though it were just what he expected, forked carefully in the hill and turned out two more beauties. I felt into the loosened hill with my fingers and found no more.

“Ha!” I said casually, “if they’re all as good as that–“

Potter just leaned on the fence and glared. His face turned a slow purple.

Jim dug the fork deep under the next hill, heaved up, and out tumbled seven more great big Idahos, the moist earth sticking lightly to them in realistic style.

“What do you think of those, neighbor?” cried Jim cheerily, holding up a champion for Potter to see.

“Urp,” said Potter,” whaw, huff, it’s a… it’s a miracle!”

“Aw,” said Jim very off-handedly, “miracle nothing. You buy good seed and stick it in the ground, and OF COURSE it comes up. What else can it do? Some people go to all kinds of toil and trouble over growing a few things, a few vegetables, a couple of patches of pretty flowers–“

“Gardening,” I suggested to Potter as I knelt and heaved the murphies1 into the baskets, “gardening is a spinster’s game really–“

“Say,” cried Jimmie, “how about calling in some of the neighbors as you suggested, Potter–?”

“I’ve,” he said, in a daze, withdrawing his hold from the fence, “I’ve got to tie up a few dahlias, so big they are falling over… I’ve got to fasten them up…”

So Jim stood up and looked over the fences in various directions and called the neighbors to see his potato crop. And they came and exclaimed and yelled and made sounds of incredulous delight, while through the bushes, we could see Potter bent down, tying up dahlias and looking 10 years older.

But finally, he could stand it no longer and came around the side drive too.

And it was he, unbelievingly fondling and examining the beautiful Idahos, who discovered, about the fourth one he petted, the purple ink ring and the grower’s name printed on the pallid rawhide skin of the spud.

Which made everybody, including Potter, feel good. And we all went in Jim’s kitchen and turned on the gas stove oven and baked 20 Idahos and put French dressing, butter and salt in them and sat around the kitchen eating and talking about fishing.


Editor’s Note:

  1. “Murphies” are slang for potatoes. ↩︎

The Last Lunge

As Ellery’s launch was slacking up to the dock, Old Methuselah suddenly leaped three feet in the air off the end of the wharf.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 7, 1946.

“Well, it’s a sad business,” sighed Jimmie Frise, standing on the cottage veranda in the cool September evening and gazing fondly over the bay, the islands, the channels.

“Sad or otherwise,” I stated briskly, “for once we are going to be on time when the launch calls for us.”

“Aw,” said Jim, “you put too much importance on things like that. What does it matter if we keep a launch waiting a few minutes?”

“A few minutes!” I expostulated. “Last summer, Jim, you started to varnish the outboard skiff half an hour before the launch was ordered for.”

“Yeah, blame me,” retorted Jim. “You wouldn’t let me help put the shutters up last year, because you said I left cracks that the mice got in. Well, who was still hammering at the shutters after we’d loaded all the baggage on the launch?”

“We can’t have mice in the cottage, Jim,” I protested.

“Well, anyway,” said Jim, “here we are all packed the night before. All our bags packed except the last little things on top. Most of the shutters up, only four to put up in the morning. The ice-house all padlocked. Boats put away. Everything tidy.”

“And the launch ordered,” I reminded him firmly, “for 8 o’clock in the morning. Instead of 10 or noon, like in the past.”

“Why, the sun will hardly be up,” snorted Jim.

“We’ll have an early start,” I pointed out. “We’ll be at the Landing before 10. We’ll be on the highway before 10.30. And we’ll be comfortably home in the city before all the week-end traffic has started to boil its way down.”

“You have very little love or affection for your fellow man, have you?” remarked Jimmie. “I think you’re a natural born Tory. A poor man’s aristocrat, that’s you…”

“Because I don’t like stewing all the way home in a week-end traffic jam?” I demanded indignantly. “Don’t forget, Mr. Frise, this week-end is the end of summer, the homecoming week-end for tens of thousands of families. All the kids getting back for school. It’ll be a madhouse on the highways.”

“Well, it’s a festival,” argued Jim. “It’s the triumphant return of tens of thousands of families from their lovely summer vacation. All browned and tanned and full of health and strength for another year in the dusty city. You should rejoice to be among those crowds, you should get a kick out of feeling part of them…”

“Heh, heh, heh,” I replied.

“If we Canadians had any imagination,” went on Jimmie, “all the towns along the highways should regard this week-end as a festival in its own right. They should have the town bands out, playing all afternoon and evening of this week, along the edge of the highway, to salute the passing multitudes of homing cottagers.”

“What a hope!” I scoffed. “They’re all glad to see the last of us. From now on, a dog can cross the road in those towns without risking his life. Mothers can rest easy, whenever the children are out of their sight. This week-end is regarded by most of the towns and villages along the summer-resort highways with a great heave and a sigh of thanksgiving. Garagemen can take a long and well-deserved rest. All the storekeepers can sleep in from now on. THEY can go on holidays.”

The Practical Shepherd

“You forget,” reminded Jimmie, “that without the swarming multitudes on the highways, half the towns and villages along those highways would be little lost hick towns, half the size they are now, half as active. Why, if it weren’t for the summer resort and tourist throngs of July and August, those communities would starve to death.”

“Even so,” I stated, “they feel mighty glad to see the last of us.”

“They should hold this week-end,” declared Jim, “as a public festival. They should decorate their main street with flags, bunting and colored lights, the way they do for Old Home Week. They should have the town bands out to play us through. Those little towns have no imagination and mighty little gratitude.”

“They’ll feel gratitude Monday,” I chuckled, “when that great, sweet, lovely silence descends on them for another 10 months.”

“You’re,” asserted Jim, turning from viewing the sweet landscape, “you’re nothing but a misanthrope. You dislike your fellow man. You impute the lowest motives to him. You look upon all your fellow men as lugs.”

“I don’t dislike them,” I countered. “I just see through them.”

“I bet you come,” continued Jim, “from a long line of petty aristocrats, tax collectors, deacons, school inspectors…”

“I come,” I informed him, “of a long line of shepherds, from Banffshire in Scotland. My name, Gregory, comes from Latin and means shepherd. Grex, gregoris. Of the flock.”

“A fine shepherd you’d make,” laughed Jim. “Kicking the poor little lambs ahead of you…”

“Ah, no,” I corrected. “You misunderstand shepherds. A shepherd takes the kindest care of his lambs. He goes out on the hills afar and finds the lost lamb. Why? Because as soon as it’s grown, he’s going to fleece it. Then, when the market is right, he’s going to knock it on the head, skin it, and sell it in the market.”

“Now, just a minute,” protested Jim hotly. “That isn’t the picture of a shepherd I’ve been brought up on.”

“There has been a lot of bunk about shepherds,” I agreed. “But if you stop to think for a minute, you’ll see that a shepherd takes the gentlest care of his silly, brainless, dopey sheep, for the simple reason that, while they are weak and foolish and easily hurt, they fetch a good price in the market.”

“My, you’re cynical tonight,” muttered Jim, turning again to gaze on the sunset. “On this night of all nights, our last at the cottage for another long year, you should be mellow.” You should be sentimental. You should be filled with sweet and kindly thoughts.”

“Just because I’m not a sap,” I replied, “is no reason for supposing that I’m not capable of tender thoughts. I love this place as much as you do or any man living. We’ve had a great summer here. We’ve fished. We’ve picked blueberries. We’ve walked over the wild rocks and seen partridge, fox, deer, raccoon and mink. We’ve soaked up about a million candlepower of sun. We’ve breathed out of our systems thousands of cubic yards of the evil air of cities.”

“See?” said Jim. “Your reasons are all mercenary, all based on practical gain. If you love this place, it’s because you got something out of it.”

“What is love?” I posed, paraphrasing Pontius Pilate.

“The way I like to see the world,” said Jim, relaxing in one of the two chairs I had left on the veranda. All the rest had been stored away. “The way I’d like to see the world, would be a world full of people who have ideas, ideals and sentiments based on something other than gain.”

“So would the Communists,” I explained.

“What I mean,” mused Jim, sentimentally, “is this: why do people all fight one another all the time? For example, we don’t fight children. We love our own children. And we have a natural feeling of affection for most other children.”

“When Philosophers are Kings”

“A lot of them are brats,” I mentioned.

“Precisely!” cried Jim. “There’s the point. But suppose you are driving your car and you see a little kid run out on the road ahead of you. He looks like a brat. He is a brat. But do you run over him with your car? No, sir. You practically break your neck swerving to avoid him.”

“So what?” I demanded.

“Now, as soon as that brat grows up,” went on Jim, “into an adult brat, your whole attitude changes.”

“I don’t run over him deliberately,” I replied warmly.

“No, but in all other things but your car, you run over him,” declared Jim excitedly. “Our whole social system is based on the theory that those who are born smart or clever or gifted are entitled to live off the dumb majority. Of course there are adult brats. Of course there are adults who are as lazy, as spoiled, and unlikeable, as crafty, as evasive and essentially selfish as any brat of a child.”

“Admitted,” I agreed grandly.

“My question is,” concluded Jim, “why don’t we reorganize all our social ideas and oblige those of us who are born smart enough to live easily to look upon our fellow men who aren’t born that way with the natural affection and understanding with which we now regard all children, good, bad and indifferent?”

It took me a minute to feel the force of that question.

“You see,” pursued Jimmie intently, “only a small percentage of human beings are born smart. The great majority have to depend on those few to originate the work, to set up the work and to manage the work. But there is one thing wrong. Those who originate, set up and manage the work want to look upon all the rest of their fellow mortals the way you say a shepherd looks at his flock. To be cared for, within reason, but to be shorn, slaughtered and sent to market.”

“Hardly,” I protested.

“They have no fellow feeling for their less smart or gifted fellows,” insisted Jim. “We don’t really LOVE all children. Plenty of children give us the feeling that we’d like to kick them. But in all of us there is a natural feeling of affection, forgiveness, toleration and sacrifice for children. Why can’t that feeling be expanded into the adult world?”

“Plenty of religions have tried to do that, Jim,” I suddenly recollected. “The whole Christian principle is based on the fact that God is the Father and all men are his children. Therefore, we are all brothers.”

“Brothers be hanged!” cried Jim. “Plenty of brothers fight each other worse than they fight strangers. What I’m getting at is not to treat our fellow men as brothers, but as children. That is, the smart, the clever, the gifted, be obliged to adopt an adult attitude towards those not born smart or clever or gifted.”

“Hmmm,” I pondered.

“In the schools, the colleges, the universities,” rounded up Jim, “there should be special lectures, which all men, both clever and dumb, would be obliged to take. In these lectures, it would be explained that no man is clever in his own right, any more than that any man is born. And some will become adult. And others will remain children, naughty, lazy, selfish to the end of their days. Therefore, the adults – that is, the smart – must adopt and maintain an adult attitude to the end of their days.

“It can’t be done,” I asserted.

“It can be done,” retorted Jim. “Because we’ve done it with children. It is simply a case of our smart people growing up. A hundred years ago, little children were slaves in mills and mines. Today, every child MUST go to school until he’s 16. And childhood is revered and respected even by the most hopelessly stupid people.”

After Methuselah

Jim had me. There was no comeback I could think of. So we both sat watching the last soft light of day fading from our well-beloved and familiar summer scene. The rocks, the earth, the sea and sky – to the artist a form of religion, as they said at George Moore’s burial.

So, with the launch coming at 8 a.m., and we having to be up at 6 to have breakfast and tidy up the last remnants of our habitation in the old cabin, we went to bed.

And we got up at 7.10, as Jim turned the alarm clock off in his sleep, so he says. I KNOW it wasn’t I. And we hastily bolted a pot of tea and some toast. And at 7.40 we were hammering up the last four shutters. And at five minutes to 8, just as Ellery, the taxi launch man, hove in view around the island, we were carrying out valises and dunnage-bags and tackle-boxes to the wharf.

And at precisely 8, as Ellery’s launch was slacking up to the dock and my arm extending to save the bump, Old Methuselah, the big muskalonge that Jim and I had fished for, week in, week out, for five summers past, suddenly rose off the end of the wharf, leaped lazily three feet into the air in a gorgeous arc, leered at us, and fell back into the water with. a splash that made Ellery’s boat rock.

The last time we had seen Old Methuselah was in late July, out off the point of the little rocky island facing the cottage. He was well over 30, maybe close to 40 pounds. In 1943, Jimmie actually had him on the hook, but after a brief fight, Old Methuselah had simply jumped in the air, rolled over, fell on Jim’s line, and broke it like cotton thread.

We had both, at various other times, seen him jump, and had seen, in the cool of the evening, his colossal swirls out in the bay as he gulped down some wandering pike or bass.

Ellery’s boat bumped. Jim dropped the dunnage-bag and tackle-box he was carrying. I looked at my watch.

It was one minute past 8 a.m.

Ellery leaped out of the launch and made her fast. Jim began unpacking his rod and getting his reel out of the tackle-box.

I ran for the boathouse, with the key of the padlock in my hand.

With Ellery at the oars of the square stern skiff, we proceeded systematically to comb the shore. Starting at our wharf, we worked south a couple of hundred yards. Then we worked north. Then we crossed the channel to the best lunge-fishing shore in our district, a shore of large boulders interspersed with gravel.

I looked at my watch. It was 10.20 a.m.

“Ellery,” I asked, “haven’t you got any other calls to make today?”

“Plenty,” said Ellery, taking a firmer grip of the oars and turning to spy out the next course. “I shoulda been at the McCormac’s at 10. But they’ll just figger my engine broke down. It’s been going to break down all the past week…”

“But when you don’t come… ?” I remonstrated.

“When I don’t arrive with you on time,” explained Ellery, “they’ll dig up another launch some place for the McCormac’s.”

He started to row vigorously for a small rocky islet that is the second best place for muskies.

“And,” he added, “for the Brown’s at 12. And the Henry’s at 2. And the Henderson’s at 4. And so on.”

And so on!

At any rate, we arrived at the Landing at 6.45 p.m. and drove all the way to the city in the worst stinking, boiling, stewing traffic jam ever.

And of course we never saw so much as a ripple from Old Methuselah.


Editor’s Notes: Old Home Week is a practice to invite former residents of a town – usually people who grew up in the area as children and moved elsewhere in adulthood – to visit the “Old Home”.

George Moore was a novelist and art critic.

What the Blazes!

With our pitiful little containers we ran and we chucked and we ran and we chucked while the bush fire let go its age-old war cry, a kind of crackling thunder.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 1, 1946.

“Hand me up the hammer,” commanded Jimmie Frise.

But I was busy looking. Looking out across the bay in front of the cottage at a launch towing five canoes.

“HAND ME UP THE HAMMER!” repeated Jim.

“Oh, parn me,” I said, handing him up the hammer.

“Asleep?” inquired Jim, politely.

“No,” I said, “I was just looking at that darn launch. Look at it. Towing five canoes.

That’s the third gang that has gone up the river this morning.”

“They’re after walleyes,” explained Jimmie, up the ladder. “Pickerel. They’re probably going up to the Falls to camp.”

“But Jim,” I cried, “we’ve never seen anything like this before. Here we are on our annual cottage repairing trip – a month ahead of the holidays… why, it’s hardly the first of June…”

“We generally see a few fishermen at this season,” reminded Jim as he banged the hammer on the window screen frame.

“Yes, a few,” I protested. “But already this morning there have been three big loads of fishermen go up the river. Why, that’s more than you would see in July!”

“Probably Yanks,” said Jim.

“I’ll bet all three loads have been Yanks,” I asserted. “Jim, we are facing an invasion this summer. I bet millions of Yanks are coming to Canada this summer. Millions.”

“They’ll bring a lot of cash with them,” suggested Jim.

“Fresh cash,” I admitted.

“Strange cash, new cash,” elaborated Jim. “Not cash we have been shuffling around among ourselves.”

“And they’ll leave it,” I considered.

They’ll leave it,” agreed Jim, “and take nothing out with them. It’s a gift.”

“All they do,” I pondered, “is breathe a little of our fresh air. Catch and eat a few fish. And leave a few hundred million dollars fresh cash behind them.”

Jimmie banged the screen frame firmly home and came down the ladder. We stood on the rock beside the cottage and watched the launch with the five canoes slowly vanishing behind the point, up the river.

We could see the launch crowded with humanity. A wisp of song drifted across the quiet water to us.

“You see,” said Jimmie, relaxing and sitting down on the sun-bathed rock, “for several years now, there really hasn’t been much outdoor sport for the Yanks. Or for us either. Apart entirely from the men overseas – that is a million Canadians and maybe 10 or 15 million Yanks – even the folks who stayed home have had gasoline rationing, tire rationing and everything else to keep them from going afar into the woods and streams. This year, we’re going to see the pent-up desires of all these countless men let loose.”

“It’s going to be an abnormal explosion of outdoor energy,” I supposed.

“Correct,” said Jim. “Thousands of men who normally would do their fishing and camping nearer home have been saving up their money and their energy to take a real, far-off holiday. All the dreams and frustrations of the past four or five years are going to bust loose on us this summer.”

The Invasion Has Begun

“I’m told,” I put in, “that in the last six years Americans have gone outdoor MAD!”

“The way I heard it,” said Jim, “there is more American, money invested in fishing tackle, guns and camping equipment than in all other American sports combined, including golf, baseball, football, horse-racing…”

“Whoa, now,” I protested.

“Including horse-racing,” reiterated Jimmie, “with all its millions. Do you know how many Yanks annually buy a gun license in the States?”

“It would be millions,” I guessed.

“It would be just under 12 millions,” announced Jim. “At that rate, how many millions go fishing?”

“Say…” I muttered. “We’d better watch out! What if that tidal wave of fishermen were to start in this direction!”

“They’ve started,” said Jim quietly, pointing.

And there, around the island, came another large launch towing two rowboats and four canoes.

We recognized the launch as Joe Perrault’s from the Landing. Joe is one of our busiest guides.

We gazed across the twinkling water as Perrault’s launch slowly chuff-chuffed across the bay heading up the river. We could see short fishing rods projecting over the stern, regardless of the towed rowboats and canoes.

“Why, they’re fishing already,” I cried. “They’re trolling!”

“Well, you get some walleyes along there,” explained Jim. “At this season, the walleyes are coming down the river from the Falls and the sand bars and gravel bars near the Falls where they’ve spawned.”

There must have been 10 men in Perrault’s launch.

“Look. Jim.” I submitted. “Can our fish stand to this kind of invasion? If four big up. loads of them have gone up the river already this morning, and it’s only the end of May really, how many will be passing up the river in July and August?”

“They don’t all get fish,” reminded Jim.

“No, but they try,” I insisted. “And they get a good many fish.”

“Actually,” mused Jimmie, lying back on the rock, “in every 10 men who go fishing, there is only one or maybe two at the most who are good fishermen, who get fish. The rest are men more interested in being out in the open air, in the wilds, than in fishing. They are more interested in escaping from the city they dwell in, the country they know, than in fishing. They are more interested in escaping from their wives and kids. How can a man walk out on his wife and kids for two weeks? Why, by pretending to be an ardent fisherman.”

“Mmmmm,” I said, cautiously.

“That’s a fact,” declared Jim. “Some men take up golf. That is his excuse for getting away from his work and his family for a few hours at a time. Instead of having to come home every afternoon – now that daylight saving is on – and spend several hours listening to his wife yammering and his kids yelling, why, he pretends to be an ardent golfer and goes off by himself and wanders over the pastures. Escaped.”

“But fishing!” I suggested proudly.

“Ah fishing,” gloated Jim. “Fishing gives, you a real escape. You escape from your office, your job. You escape from your familiar city and surrounding country. You escape from your wife and kids. You escape from civilization itself. You put on old clothes, you dress like a beachcomber. You don’t have to shave. You don’t even have to wash. You can be the natural bum that all men are at heart.”

“All by pretending to be an ardent fisherman,” I chuckled

“That is why, it’s a mistake,” explained Jim, “to look on all these tourists as expert anglers who will tear the stuffing out of the game fish resources of this country.”

We heard distant shouting. We, glanced across the bay to where Perrault’s launch was heading into the river. But the launch was slowing down and turning. From it came confused shouting and we could see the figures of the passengers moving excitedly around.

“I’ll get the glasses,” I exclaimed, running for the cottage.

Through the field glasses, Jimmie and I watched the entrancing scene. One of the sportsmen in the stern of the launch had hooked a fish. We saw Joe Perrault swing his launch well out into the bay again where he stopped it to drift. We saw Joe drag one of the rowboats alongside the launch and he and the sportsmen got into it. Joe rowed clear of the launch and we watched the battle that ensued between the sportsman and what must have been a very big and active fish.

It was a walleye, all right, a big pike-perch. or pickerel as we call it in the east here. The Yanks call them walleyes. Probably the best eating fish of all.

A Smell in the Air

As Joe Perrault heaved it aboard the rowboat with the landing net, we caught a glimpse of it through the glasses.

“Eight pounds,” yelled Jim, who had the glasses.

“More like 10,” I said with the naked eye. And the crowd in the launch cheered.

“Well,” said Jim, sitting up. “What are we doing sitting here? Why aren’t we out fishing right now?”

“We’ve still got seven more screens to put up,” I reminded, “and when are we going to get at the dock? It will take three or four hours to fix that dock up.”

“Look,” said Jim firmly. “Four loads of Yanks have gone up that river since breakfast. Goodness knows how many loads of them went up before we woke. Goodness knows how many have gone up the last few days. Maybe there are 200 Yanks camped up at the Falls and on the river higher up. They are catching walleyes. They are eating walleyes. Right now, I can almost catch the smell of walleyes cooking in frying pans over camp fires…”

I sniffed.

“By golly,” I said, “I believe I can…”

So we got our tackle together and lifted the minnow trap down by the dock and got five good plump little minnows out of it.

And in the canoe, we set out along the shore towards the river to follow the pilgrimage. We did not troll, but anchored out in the fast current in the river, wherever it narrowed, and cast our minnows out to sink down into the deep water where the walleyes lurk. It is about three miles up the river to the first Falls where some of the best walleye fishing is to be had after May 15.

We poked along, pausing for a few casts here and there without any luck. As we paddled, another launch, towing three canoes, passed up river. We were close enough to see by the gabardine sport coats, fancy hats and horn-rimmed spectacles that the passengers were all from south of the border. We all exchanged cheery waves.

When we got within half a mile of the Falls, we could see a regular encampment was established. Boats and canoes were anchored out in the swift water below the Falls, and from the shore on both sides, figures were clearly visible in the act of casting out into the swift water.

There were big tents and little tents, open front shed tents and army pup tents.

“The war,” submitted Jim, “has certainly provided the Yanks with all kinds of new wrinkles in camping gear.”

Heading for a sand bar we knew to the west of the Falls, and well apart from where the visitors were fishing, Jim and I anchored and cast our minnows across the bar. And in 10 minutes, we each had a very nice walleye of about three pounds.

This is enough,” said Jim, as he knocked his walleye on the head. “Let’s go ashore on the point and cook them for lunch.”

That suited me fine. Our favorite point was practically our private property. Nobody else ever camped on it. It was a little balsam and pine and birch clothed point projecting out from the shore with bays on either side. In summer, those bays are full of good bass. We had a small familiar stone fireplace discreetly hidden on the point where we had cooked many a shore dinner of fresh caught fish.

We landed the canoe and gathered sticks for a quick hot fire that would burn down to bright coals for grilling the fish. While I got the fire going, Jim started on the walleyes, skinning them and taking off the fillets. They have a silver sheen all over them when freshly skinned. You put these fillets in a wire camp grill, with a slice of bacon over and under, and then toast everything over a small, low. bed of bright wood coals. Arrrnnnhh!

I got the fire going strong. I took the usual precautions of clearing away the dead leaves from the neighborhood of the fire. When the dead sticks were blazing fiercely and the larger dead sticks for the coals were piled on, I went down to the water’s edge to help Jim skin the fish.

“Look,” said Jim, “another load of them!”

Just nearing our point came another launch towing small craft.

And as we watched, the guide steering the boat stood up and waved at us and yelled.

“Hi-ya,” we yelled back.

But the guide signalled frantically and turned his boat towards us.

At which same instant, Jim and I heard a rising fierce crackle and a kind of whoosh. We leaped up and looked behind us.

To the Rescue

A spark from our dead stick fire had, leaped across the rock and had set fire to the dead leaves. The brush was afire!

Jim grabbed the tea pail and I grabbed my hat.

We dipped water and ran.

“Oh, oh, oh.” I moaned,” in front of all these visitors.

“Old timers,” gasped Jim, “like us…”

And with our pitiful little containers we ran and we chucked and we ran and we chucked while the bush fire grabbed hold of a little pine and a couple of small balsams and let go its age-old war cry, a kind of crackling thunder.

The launch with the strangers slid in and bumped hard. Out bailed the occupants, armed with pails and one of them with an axe. They didn’t talk or shout. They just went to work.

The tallest of them, with a Deep South drawl caught me and asked: “Do you know the lay of the land behind here? Can you get me around in the canoe…?”

I realized he knew bush fires. He ran to the canoe and I jumped in and paddled him. He had a big axe and I had one of their large canvas buckets.

As we shoved off, I happened to glance towards the Falls. Two launches were already half way to us, loaded with men. Small boats, canoes were streaming from the Falls in our direction.

We nipped around behind the fire, and landed 50 yards inland.

“We’ll catch sparks first,” said the Southerner, “until the gang gets here.”

And the gang got here, all right. In five minutes, they were landing all the way down the point, some with axes, some with pails. No shouting, no confusion: with their pails and axes, they were damping out the big floating sparks; with the axes, they were switching off the lower branches of balsams that were on fire at the top. I saw some of them cut down stout little balsams, in about five swift strokes of the axe.

In fact, in 20 minutes the fire was out. And only a tiny little tip of the point was damaged. Still they prowled, with their pails, seeking out and damping down every smouldering ember.

And still none of them had anything to say.

None except the one they called the Senator. He was a big, powerful fat man, wearing gabardine pants, gabardine shirt, knee-length hunting boots. From his pockets projected all the gadgets you’ll see advertised in the outdoors magazines. He had a 10-gallon hat on.

And he was the director of the whole operation, apparently. Everybody took orders from him.

He came wading through the burned debris and shook hands with us.

“Senator,” I said, “I can’t begin to thank you gentlemen for coming the way you did. This whole point would have gone…”

“The whole point,” boomed the Senator, “and maybe down the shore to the Falls.”

“I can’t tell you how grateful we are…” I repeated.

“What the hell else could we do?” demanded, the Senator. “We don’t want our favorite camping ground burned all up.”

“But…” I stuttered.

“It’s all right, son,” said the Senator. “All I want to say is, you want to take good care of this country. You want to watch your fires and don’t let any holocausts get loose. Remember, son, this is America’s Playground.”

And we all shook hands round and round, as they got into their boats and canoes and returned to their fishing.

And finally, just Jim and I on the point, we shook hands too.

Peanuts, Pop-Corn!

I ran ahead and caught up with Jim… and we sold the whole load.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 27, 1946.

“Whoa, slow down!” commanded Jimmie Frise.

I slowed carefully. You can’t slow all of a sudden in the 5 p.m. home-going traffic.

“Look at the poor guy,” cried Jim, looking back.

Beside the curb stood a peanut wagon. And on the curb beside it sat the peanut man, his head buried in his hands, his whole body slumped and he appeared to be shaking or shivering.

The traffic whanged past him, heedless.

“Back up a little, into the curb,” ordered Jim.

“Look,” I said, “I was planning on doing a little gardening tonight, before supper…”

“Why, the poor guy’s sick!” remonstrated Jim.

“After all,” I countered, “there are agencies for looking after things like this. There’s the police, for instance. They’ll see him in a few minutes, if they haven’t seen him already. The cops pass here every few minutes…”

“Back into the curb,” commanded Jim, opening his door.

I backed in. Jim hopped out and walked back to the peanut man. So I got out, too, and strolled over.

It wasn’t as if the man had been hit by a car. An accident is one thing. Sickness is another. Everybody responds willingly to an accident. But nobody feels much attracted, in public, to somebody who is merely sick. In fact, the natural instinct is to avoid somebody who is ill.

“Hey,” Jim was saying, kindly, shaking the peanut man’s shoulder. “Hey, are you all right?”

The peanut man moaned and went into a spasm of shaking from head to foot.

“Hey,” demanded Jim, scrunching down beside the squatted figure of the peanut man. “Look, mister. What’s the matter? You sick?”

Again the peanut man moaned. His face was sunk in his widespread rough hands.

“Look, do you speak Greek?” Jim asked me. “Or Macedonian or whatever he might be…”

“I’ll try him in Italian,” I suggested.

I tried a few phrases I had picked up in the Italian campaign. “Come stati? Dove abiti?” But it did not penetrate the poor fellow’s moans. He shuddered and started to fall sideways.

Jim caught him.

“Here,” he cried, “get a cop, will you?”

But there were no cops in sight. Traffic snored and boiled past, everybody fighting for position. I ran down the boulevard a few yards. and peered in both directions. No cops.

When I got back, Jim had his arms around the peanut man’s shoulders and was trying to lift him to his feet.

“We’ll put him in your car,” grunted Jim, “and drive him over to St. Joseph’s hospital. It’s only a couple of blocks…”

“Now, just a minute,” I pleaded. “After all, we have no right to butt in on a thing like this! We could telephone the police from the house when we get home…”

On Guard

But Jim regarded me with such a malevolent glare that I could do nothing else but take hold of the peanut man’s other arm and shoulder, and help hoist him.

“Maybe he’s just drunk,” I protested.

“This guy is sick,” puffed Jim.

And he started to lead him towards my car.

“No, no, no!” moaned the peanut man, making a blind grab for the handles of his peanut wagon as we started.

“We can’t just leave this peanut wagon unguarded!” I pointed out to Jim.

“Okay,” gritted Jimmie, “help me put him in the car and I’ll drive him to the hospital. You stay and guard the peanut wagon.”

“Nothing doing!” I protested.

“Then you drive him to hospital,” whuffed Jim, as we got the poor guy, all dangling, to the car door. “And I’ll stay and mind the wagon until you get back.”

“Jim,” I pleaded, as he opened the door and started to heave the peanut man inside, “look, think! What are we doing? Is this any of our affair? What we SHOULD do is drive on and notify the police. If you like, we can drive around and find the nearest policeman…”

“Will I take him to hospital,” demanded Jim bitterly, “or will you? Will you come with us? Or will you stay and mind the peanut wagon?”

The peanut man was slumped in the back seat, half on the seat, half on the floor, his face gray, his eyes rolled back, his mouth open. and breathing strangely.

“I’ll wait here and guard the peanut wagon,” I said. “You come back as soon as you can. I wanted to work in the garden…”

But Jim slammed the door and, with a slash of my gears, jerked the car into action.

He careened around the corner, heading for St. Joseph’s.

The peanut wagon stood, all white and tidy, the little ring of gas flame glittering brightly inside the glass frame. Pop-corn was heaped in a snow-whited rift. Little bags, neatly crimped, were stacked alongside. At the other end of the glass enclosure were the peanuts. In little bags, in bulk, and some in a roaster for keeping the peanuts hot. I went and stood discreetly at a little distance, so that the passing traffic would not confuse me with the peanut business.

It was a beautiful evening. The mellow breeze from the lake wafted the odor of peanuts and buttered pop-corn out into the passing stampede of cars.

A car with a big grim business tycoon type drew up with a jerk. The driver bailed out and stamped towards the peanut wagon.

“Hey,” he called to me, “five bags.”

“The peanut man,” I explained, hurrying over very friendly, “was taken ill. My friend has taken…”

“Look,” said the big executive. “Five bags. That’s all. Never mind the details.”

I gave him five bags of popcorn. He offered me a dollar.

“Pardon me,” I said, “but I’m not the owner of this outfit. I just happen…”

The business tycoon growled: “Gimme ten bags and let it go.”

I gave him five more bags. He tossed the dollar into the air at me and wheeled. I picked the dollar up and placed it gingerly on the peanut wagon.

Jim was gone a good 25 minutes. And in that time, 10 or a dozen cars stopped, and bought either popcorn or peanuts from me. I ran out of change. But most people, when I explained that I was merely minding the wagon, took their change in merchandise.

I had two dollars and ten cents by the time Jim got back.

“Hi, there,” he called enthusiastically as he swung out of my car. “The poor guy’s got pneumonia. A desperate case. I took him in the emergency ward and they’ve got a whole staff working on him. Oxygen tent, sulpha and everything!”

Jim was flushed and delighted with himself.

“I’ve sold two dollars and ten cents worth of peanuts,” I informed him.

“Good for you,” cried Jim. “Now, let’s figure out what the procedure is.”

“The procedure,” I stated drily, “is to find a cop, as we should have done in the first place.”

“Why, that guy might have died right here on the curb, if we hadn’t taken action!” expostulated Jim hotly. “Find a cop, indeed! And then they’d have sent for an ambulance. And by the time the ambulance was back from another job it was on, it would be an hour before anything would be done. And this poor guy dying on the pavement…”

The Big Trouble

Another car drew up and a lady waggled her hand with a quarter in it. “Three bags,” she commanded pertly.

“Okay,” I said to Jim, after delivering the peanuts. “Fine. And now we’ve got a peanut wagon on our hands!”

“Well, it’s easy from here on,” declared Jim. “NOW we can hunt for a cop and turn the wagon over to him. But we’ve done the proper and sensible thing. We’ve taken action. It was an emergency. We may have saved that peanut man’s life.”

“And,” I submitted sourly, “got ourselves into a lawsuit, probably, for interfering with matters that are none of our business. How do you know that peanut man won’t sue us for damages, kidnapping him away from his property? How do you know he won’t sue us for theft? Here we are in possession of property – and money! – that doesn’t belong to us! Stolen goods…”

“Aw, for Pete’s sake!” cried Jim, walking a little away and gazing east and west in hope of seeing a policeman. “You’re the perfect representative of the modern man. You can think up more reasons for not doing something…”

“After all,” I cut in, “there is such a thing as law and order. After all, there is such a thing as organized society…”

“Is there?” inquired Jim softly, coming back. “Look: here was a humble peanut man dying of pneumonia on the side of the street of this great city. Hundreds, thousands of motor cars, laden with members of this great organized society, were whistling by every minute. How many of them saw this man? Hundreds.”

“Well, they pay taxes,” I pointed out. “They help maintain a police force, and hospitals and public health organizations. A great many of them are liberal givers to all kinds of charities and social service organizations that are supposed to look after…”

Jim fixed me with a mocking eye.

“THAT,” he said in his throat, “may be the very secret of what is the matter with the world today! Everybody pays and gives, in order to be done with all personal interest, or personal responsibility in their fellow mortals.”

“Aw, you’re just feeling a little important over doing a good deed!” I scoffed.

Jim withered me.

“If that peanut man,” he said, “had been hit by a motor car instead of being taken ill, you and I couldn’t have pushed our way into the crowd that would have gathered. And it wouldn’t have been a crowd to help the poor guy, either. Maybe three men out of a hundred would have offered to pick him up and run him to the hospital. Nobody wants blood on their car upholstery. No, 97 out of the hundred in the crowd would come running out of sheer curiosity. And not curiosity over the injured man, either. Curiosity over who hit him, how he hit him, what the guy who hit him looked like, standing there all white and shaken. But because the man was merely ill, everybody took a look and stepped on the gas.”

“Fine,” I scoffed. “But meantime, it’s 20 minutes to 6. And here we are, stuck with a peanut wagon, no cops in sight…”

Another car pulled up and three men in it. all held out waggling hands, with nickels and dimes.

I served them. Made the change.

“Nearly three dollars now, Jim,” I reckoned.

“In little,” mused Jim, as he watched the traffic still wheeling past, “in miniature, this whole incident is a marvellous demonstration of what’s the matter with the world today. Everybody is interested in mankind. Nobody is interested in the individual man. Throughout the world, we are all trying to ignore the individual man. We simply WON’T think of A Yugoslav or A Russian or A Canadian. We want to think in vague, abstract numbers, large nationalities. It’s easier. More comfortable. More COMFORTable.”

He kicked the curb.

“The U.N.O.,” he went on. “It isn’t thinking of individual men all over the earth – men starving, men dying of pestilence, men being blindly led by blind leaders. No. They think wholesale. They don’t think of one little guy dying on the curb of pneumonia. They think in terms of what is right and proper in the services that should be established in a big city or a state in order to sweep up these little guys by a sort of world-wide street cleaning system…”

“Here’s a cop now!” I rejoiced.

“Well, whatever he says,” muttered Jim, “I’m glad we looked after the poor guy.”

“Hello,” greeted the policeman, helping himself to a handful of pop-corn, “where’s Mike?”

“The peanut man?” replied Jim. “We just took him over to St. Joseph’s. He was just about unconscious with pneumonia.”

“No!” cried the cop. “How did you get him over?”

“In my car,” I said proudly. “And we’ve guarded his peanut wagon, too. I’ve made nearly three dollars for him.”

I showed the money.

“Well, well,” said the policeman, getting out his little book. “Now that’s service. I’ll just take down the detail and then I’ll drop over and see about Mike. Is he very ill?”

“They’ve got him in an oxygen tent by now,” said Jimmie. “When we passed by here, about 5.20, he was crouched on the curb, shaking…”

So we gave the policeman the details.

“Now,” I concluded, “what happens to the peanut wagon? Can you send for a truck? Will you take over?”

The policeman pondered, while he helped himself to another handful of pop-corn.

“Look,” he said. “Mike usually, after he stood here at the corner till about 6, went up Parkside. He always does a good business up there. The kids all wait for him. Now, the police station is only five or six blocks. up…”

“A Swell Idea”

“Good,” cried Jimmie. “That’s a swell idea.”

“You could make Mike,” said the cop, “a few more dollars. He’ll need it, in hospital. Besides, you can get rid of the stock in the wagon. It’ll only spoil or else the station duty boys will eat it all up.”

“Do you mean…?” I inquired indignantly of Jim.

“Sure I mean,” retorted Jim with a sly grin. “You go on home. Don’t be late for your supper. After all, supper is very important. We can’t have supper disorganized by vagrant happenings to absolute strangers… and not very important strangers at that… peanut men and such trash. Go ahead. Drive home.”

“Are you going to…?” I began, outraged.

“Sure,” said Jim, “I’m going to push this darn wagon to the police station. And I’m going to sell all the stuff on it before I get there. And I’ll take the money to Mike, and give him an honest accounting of it. In fact, I am going to be able, in this day and age, to face ONE fellow man with my eyes wide open.”

“What is all this?” smiled the cop.

“It’s a political discussion,” explained Jimmie.

“Jim,” I said, very respectful, “I’ll wait for you at the police station.”

“Good,” said Jim, taking hold of the handles of the peanut wagon.

“Get her whistlin’,” cried the cop, reaching in under the glass and turning on the whistle.

And away went Jim, with the whistle thinly but gaily singing, and the peanut wagon rolling. I drove slowly behind him for a little way.

Children ran out and bought; housewives came running off verandas. The passage of the peanut wagon, with its little whistle, was like some sort of ceremonial, with all the little feet dancing to it and the outstretched small arms and hands, and the bright small heads bobbing alongside.

“Aw, heck!” I said, jamming the brakes along the curb.

And I ran ahead and caught up with Jimmie and took one of the two handles and helped shove.

Jim said nothing.

And we sold the whole load.

And we made $6.15 for Mike.

And after we had handed it over to the Sister Superior and heard that Mike had a 50-50 chance, we telephoned to our indignant families and told them we wouldn’t be home for supper, we’d just pick up something at a restaurant.

We said we were sitting up with a sick friend.

For once, it was true.


Editor’s Notes: U.N.O. stands for the United Nations Organization.

$6.15 in 1946 would be $103 in 2023.

“Heads You Lose!”

April 6, 1946.

Yoiks!

November 14, 1946

An Axe to Grind

Old Colquhoun was waving an axe around in circles, cutting capers of glee.

By Gregory Clark, illustrated by James Frise, August 24, 1946.

“Well,” sighed Jimmie Frise, “summer is practically over.”

“The heck it is,” I protested indignantly. “We’ve got all September and …”

“September isn’t summer,” declared Jim bleakly. “September is autumn.”

“After the 21st,” I insisted firmly. “We’ve got nearly another month of summer. Don’t make it seem any shorter than it is.”

“It isn’t me that makes summer seem short,” said Jim doggedly. “It IS short. In Canada, we don’t get two months of summer.”

“Jim, you’re very ungrateful. Think,” I reminded, “if we lived in a country like Bermuda. Summer all the time!”

“Oh, boy!” gloated Jim.

“But no contrasts,” I warned. “No feeling of appreciation. Every day the same, year in, year out. Summer, summer, summer.”

“It would suit me,” declared Jim.

“I’d die,” I submitted, “of sheer boredom. What I love about Canada is its versatility. When you go to bed in Canada, you haven’t the vaguest idea what kind of a day it’s going to be tomorrow. Man, that’s adventure. That adds zest.”

“One thing I know,” asserted Jim somberly. “In about two months, it’s going to be cold and bleak and the leaves are going to be tumbling ahead of the wind on the ground …”

“What a thought on a day like this!” I snorted, looking out from the cottage veranda over the keen, sparkling water.

It was one of those rarest days of summer in Canada. A hale west wind blowing. A fine mid-August westerly. All the trees in the full health of leaf and bough, bending in the wind and making a strong clear rushing sound. By mid-August, the tree foliage is leathery and tough and made to bathe in these fine tangy winds from the west.

“Do you realize, Jim,” I demanded, “that this week and next are the two finest bass fishing weeks of the whole year?”

“I don’t recall any famous catches at this season,” said Jim.

“The records prove it,” I stated. “For 30 years, The Toronto Star maintained a prize contest for the biggest black bass. And with few exceptions across those 30 years, the winners were caught in the latter part of August. The six-and-a-half-pounders, the seven-pounders.”

“Coincidence,” suggested Jimmie.

“Not a chance,” I corrected. “It stands to reason, Jim. Big bass are big because they have been successful in escaping death at the hands of anglers. Big bass are big because they are wily and cunning. In July, when the season first opens, the weather is mild and fine. A smart bass can detect the approach of the fisherman’s boat 100 yards off. The weeds are young and easily seen through. The big bass may be hungry, but he knows he has all summer ahead of him to feed up. So he uses judgment and tact in selecting his food. He doesn’t grab hold of the first bait that passes him, as younger fish do. So he grows big and old and wise.”

Bass Goes a-Hunting

“And how,” inquired Jim, “does he fall for it in late August?”

“This hale west wind,” I pursued, “suggests to the bass what it suggested to you a few minutes ago. It suggests that summer is blowing to its end. That autumn is coming. And the big bass, remembering other years, decides it is about time he started feeding up against the lean months.”

“I can follow that,” agreed Jim.

“Yes, sir,” I went on. “So the big bass leaves his hiding place beneath sunken log or behind rocky shelf, and under the influence of this fine wind, beating the water into a turmoil, he goes ahunting. He grows a little careless, as all men do when urgent need drives them. He comes along these wind-beaten shores, stuffing himself with minnows dazed by the waves, gorging on his favorite food, the crawfish, which have been washed from under the rocks by the continued pounding of the waves. There are fine pickings along the shores these days for a big bass with an eye to economy of movement.”

“It’s sort of harvest home for the bass, too.” suggested Jim.

“I,” I submitted, “could do with a real feast of bass. We will skin them, fillet them, and fry the fillets in an iron frying pan on a good hot stove.”

“With chopped parsley right on them as they fry,” contributed Jim.

“And no vegetables,” I menued, “but plenty of toast, some slightly bitter leaf lettuce – not that awful, watery, head lettuce! …”

“And,” rounded off Jim, sitting up smartly, “a large plate of cold, ripe, sliced tomatoes!”

“Ah, that’s better,” I exclaimed, as Jim got to his feet full of resolve. “That’s more Augusty. I hate to see a man gloomy in August.”

“Have you any suggestions as to where we’ll fish?” asked Jim alertly, facing the wind and catching a big lungful.

“Any place,” I suggested.

“No, sir. I’ve got an idea,” said Jim. “You know that old settler up the road? Old man Mose, the kids call him?”

“Certainly: an old acquaintance of mine,” I stated. “Name of Colquhoun.”

“Colquhoun, is it?” said Jim. “Well, I saw him on the road a couple of days ago, and I said to myself-there’s an old guy knows every nook and cranny of this country like a book.”

“He does,” I admitted cautiously. “He does. But in the 40 years I’ve known him – and he was always old -he never imparted any of his knowledge to me. Or to anybody else in the summer resort, as far as I can find out.”

“A hermit, is he?” asked Jim.

“Well, no, not a hermit, exactly,” I explained. “A hermit is usually a little queer, maybe religious, maybe shy. Old man Mose, as the kids all call him for the past half century, isn’t queer, isn’t religious, isn’t shy. The way I heard it, he made an unfortunate marriage when he was a young man and simply ran away and hid up in this neck of the woods. He built a cabin, intending to live by trapping and poaching. It was when we summer resorters came along and found this heavenly spot that old Colquhoun took a scunner against us. He hasn’t spoken to any of us within my memory.”

“By golly, that’s true,” said Jim. “I greeted him the other day and he never let on. I thought he was deaf.”

“Nothing deaf about him,” I assured. “He Just doesn’t like tourists. He hates summer cottagers. They’ve ruined his trapping and poaching.”

“Well, I guess there’s no chance of getting him to tip us off to some secret, choice bass fishing spot,” surmised Jim.

“He’s a mean old cuss,” I certified. “He’s tight as wax. I doubt if he’s ever given anybody – even the other settlers around – so much as nail in his life. He’s famous for his meanness.”

“Rather an interesting old cuss,” mused Jimmie. “I like mean old characters. There’s always something curious and attractive about them. When you get to know them, you find the secret of their meanness, and it’s fascinating to discover how gnarled and twisted, and knotty and grainy human nature can become over some trifling little thing…”

“But not old man Mose,” I chuckled. “He’s just plain cussed.”

“Did you ever try to get acquainted with him?” demanded Jim.

“When I was a young man up here,” I recounted, “I went a long way out of my way to try to cultivate the old skinflint. But no use. He was laid up with flu one summer and I took him a whole carton of supplies–bacon, jelly, oranges, bread … He not only didn’t so much as say thanks, he just lay in bed, behind his beard, and studied me with shrewd, mocking, suspicious eyes. I tried to sit down and have a bedside chat. He pretended to have a bad coughing spell and then shut his eyes. I left.”

“Well,” cried Jim, “maybe the poor guy was sick. You don’t base your opinion on…”

“Oh, no,” I assured. “For the next two years, every time he saw me on the road he’d dart into the bushes to avoid me. Finally, I asked one of the other settlers what old Colquhoun had against me. And he told me the old boy was expecting me to hand him a bill for the groceries I brought him while he was ill.”

“No!” said Jim.

“He just can’t believe anybody is good-hearted,” I explained. “I have hundreds of examples. He’s quite a character.”

Bearding the Lion

“I’m going to pay him a visit,” said Jim with determination.

“Select some day when you have nothing better to do,” I suggested. “Let’s go bass fishing today.”

“I’m betting.” declared Jim, tightening his belt, “that that old character knows every bass hole in this country for miles around. And if he has never told anybody where they are – imagine the bass that’ll be in them!”

“You’re wasting your time,” I said.

“It’s only 15 minutes up this road to his shanty,” Jim calculated. “The walk would do us some good. I’ll be back in half an hour with old Colquhoun.”

“Yes, you will,” I laughed.

As I had a new line to put on my bass reel and one or two other little odd jobs, I went down to the boathouse while Jim headed up the rocky backwoods road around the end of the lake where old Colquhoun’s cabin occupied, by long odds, the finest point for a cottage in the whole countryside.

And you can imagine my astonishment, when I looked up from finishing reeling on my new line, to see, coming down the road together in full stride, Jimmie and old Colquhoun, in hearty converse.

Jim brought the old boy down to the boathouse and introduced us, neighbors for 40 years, man and boy, us if I were a newcomer to the district. Old Colquhoun looked at me with kindly interest as if he had never laid eyes on me before in his life. He shook hands firmly.

“Mr. Colquhoun,” announced Jimmie beaming, “knows a bass lake less than five miles from here that he says is simply teeming with great big five and six-pounders…”

“Where’s that?” I asked narrowly.

“Oh, it’s a little secret of me own,” said Mr. Colquhoun hoarsely but jovially. “A little secret I’ve had these past 50 years. Never a tourist into it.”

“In which direction?” I inquired cautiously. “I know most of the lakes within five miles.”

“No tourist would ever find it,” confided Mr. Colquhoun. “We can get there in your car. The road ain’t so good. But it ain’t so bad. A nice little light car like yours…”

“You mean my open job?” I asked sharply. “Why not take your car, Jim? A light car isn’t as good as a heavy car on these backwoods roads …”

“A heavy car,” put in Mr. Colquhoun, “would sink in the bog.”

“Any car,” I stated suspiciously, “would sink in the bog.”

“Oh, it ain’t that bad,” said Mr. Colquhoun. “Take whatever car you like. But all I say is, be prepared to have to pry her out of holes here and there…”

“Jim,” I cut in sharply. “We don’t have to go to any remote neck of the woods for some bass. We can get a feed of bass by taking the rowboat right out in front here…”

“Six-pounders,” announced Mr. Colquhoun “Seven-pounders even.”

“Well, I’m certainly going,” declared Jimmie. “I’m not going to pass up a chance of a lifetime…”

“I wouldn’t of tipped you off,” explained Mr. Colquhoun, “exceptin’ I am getting old. No use keepin’ secrets to the grave, is there?”

I looked at him steadily. He looked back at me, and if ever I saw just plain malignance in a human gaze, there it was. Flickering.

“I’ll go in my car, if you don’t want to come,” said Jim.

“I’ll come,” I said gloomily.

And we went in the cottage, leaving Mr. Colquhoun outside, to get our gear for the trip.

Tackling the Backwoods

“What did you do to the old bird?” I inquired of Jim inside. “Give him some kind of a sulpha pill or something? Maybe one of these new penicillin lozenges…?”

“As usual,” stated Jim, “your prejudices, acquired in early youth, have been robbing you all the rest of your life. I found him a decent, gnarled old boy. He was sitting thinking on his front step when I walked up. I asked him, matter of fact, if he could tell me of any good bass fishing off the beaten track…”

Well, wonders will never cease, I find.

So we got in MY car, the open job, with old Colquhoun in the back seat directing us. We drove up the road past his place, and on another couple of miles of very poor backwoods road, over rock and through deep pitch holes and around bald boulders. Then we turned off into what was nothing but a bare track over the waste places.

“Can’t we walk from here?” I protested.

“It’s another good two miles,” said Colquhoun, “and you’ll find it good going in a minute.”

It was never good going. It was awful going. The track disappeared for 100 yards at a stretch. Some ancient tote road of lumbering days, possibly. We wound through woods, we rode over bald rocky hills and we stumbled through swamps where vestiges of corduroy road still persisted. In all my years up in this country. I had never come across this trail before.

“This lake,” said old Colquhoun, “has got eight-pounders in it. I’ll be bound. But I never had the proper tackle to tackle them.”

He said this just as we reached the worst possible spot we had imagined. It was an old burn around swamp. You could see water in the swamps. But eight-pound bass are something to break world records with. I crawled ahead in low gear …

The corduroy collapsed. I could feel my back wheels spinning in muskeg.

Old Colquhoun jumped out of the car and ran up the hill, looking. I supposed, for a rail or something to pry me up.

Jim got out and took a length of dead tree in hand.

And then we heard old Colquhoun whooping.

“Here she is!” he exulted. “Just where I left her last fall.”

And he was waving an axe around in circles cutting capers of glee.

“Right where I left her!” he yelled, “Nobody found her. Nobody touched her. Exactly where I knowed I left her, in a stump…”

And he came bow-legging it down to the car, cuddling the axe in his arms.

“Boy!” he breathed deeply, as he laid the axe in the back seat, “is that ever a relief!”

“How far is the lake from here?” I demanded coldly.

Old Colquhoun scratched the back of his head, pushing his hat forward to do so. He studied the muskeg around. He gazed a little this way, a little that.

“Well, sir, I figger,” he said, “we’ll be there in another two miles, maybe two and a half …”

“And does the road stay like this?” I snorted angrily.

“I’m afraid the road,” said old Colquhoun, “don’t go any further than here. My memory kind of played me false…”

“You told me,” accused Jim, “that it was not half a mile off the road past your place. We’ve come four miles …”

“Distances,” stated old Colquhoun, “are very deceivin! You’ll find that out more as you grow older.”

“Can we walk from here?” demanded Jim.

“My walkin’ days are pretty well over,” said old Colquhoun “I could give you the directions and wait here…”

But something about the old man’s expression – out of the SIDES of his eyes, as it were – decided us to use what time and energy we had left in getting out of the swamp.

Which we did, with rampikes, rails, pieces of stump, stones and my jack. My car is at least two years older, in wear and tear.

But old Colquhoun has his axe. And Jimmie has one thing less to discover about old well-established skinflints.


Editor’s Notes: “Menued” is an odd word, but basically means providing a menu.

Old Man Mose” was a song written by Louis Armstrong in 1935, and re-recorded by many artists.

“Took a scunner against us” means “took a strong dislike to us”.

Sulfa Pills was a generic name for anti-bacterial drugs.

A corduroy road was used in pioneer times by placing logs, perpendicular to the direction of the road over a low or swampy area.

“Cutting capers of glee” means “doing a happy dance”.

A “rampike” is an upright, dead tree.

Wham-Bang!

I went, with a dismal crunch, into the solid bumper of a car in the next rank.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 6, 1946.

“You look irked,” remarked Jimmie Frise.

“I am irked,” I admitted. “I’ve been irked all day.”

“The heat getting you?” suggested Jim.

“No, the traffic,” I stated. “Honestly, Jim, I don’t know what we’re coming to. Here we are, with hardly any new cars on the market yet. And the traffic is so bad it is hardly worth the nerve-strain to try and drive a car downtown.”

“I wonder where all the cars are coming from?” mused Jim. “Since there haven’t been any new cars manufactured for the past several years, there can’t actually be so many more cars on the streets than there were in 1944, for example.”

“It seems to me.” I submitted, “that there are TWICE as many cars on the streets as there were a year ago. What’s happened?”

“Maybe it’s just notion we’ve got,” supposed Jim.

“Notion nothing!” I protested. “I tell you, the downtown streets are well nigh impassable these days. Use your eyes, Jim! Not only are the cars jamming the streets in traffic, but you can’t find a place to park for a distance of a mile from the centre of the city.”

“All the parking lots are full,” admitted Jim.

“What is causing this increase in cars?” I insisted. “No new cars have been made for three years, of any account. Yet Toronto is jammed with more cars than there were in the heyday of car manufacturing, back in 1938 or 1939.”

“It’s very mysterious,” agreed Jim.

“It may be.” I presented, “that all those tens of thousands of war workers who came to the big city from towns and villages all over the province to work in war factories may still be lingering in the city. And they made enough money to buy cars – second-hand cars.”

“That might be it,” said Jim.

“Yet I don’t think,” I continued, “that the small towns are any less furnished with cars than they ever were.”

“Well, the cars have come from somewhere,” declared Jimmie, “and they aren’t new cars.”

“Not only are the cars more numerous,” I asserted, “but the driving is worse than I have ever known it to be.”

“I don’t think it’s the driving, Greg,” said Jim seriously. “It isn’t bad driving. It’s bad manners.”

“How do you mean?” I demanded.

“Driving isn’t bad,” explained Jim: “Driving is childishly simple. It’s the manners of people driving that is the trouble these days. Everybody trying to beat the other guy. Everybody trying to edge ahead of the other guy.

“And everybody,” I cried, “being impatient with the other guy! Drive down Yonge St. in the middle of the day and you can collect more dirty looks, more nasty cracks hurled at you out of the windows of other cars….”

“Don’t you hurl a few yourself?” asked Jim sweetly.

“Well, what can you do,” I retorted, “when some guy goes yappity, yappity out the car window at you!”

What It’s Coming To

“It isn’t bad driving,” summed up Jim, “it’s bad manners that’s the trouble these days. Driving in traffic has become a tough game, like hockey. You try to skate the other guy off. You try to give him the butt end. You try to take the puck off him by stealing the lead in traffic.”

“Nobody cares a hoot for anybody else,” I agreed. “If you want to park, you don’t stop to think that somebody may be behind you. You just jam on the brakes, whenever you see a parking space, and let the car behind look out for itself.”

“If you can gyp a guy out of a place to park,” added Jim, “why, that’s an extra feather in your cap.”

“Bad temper,” I put in, “irritation, grouchiness and eternal vigilance to cut the other man off if possible, seems to be the proper spirit in which to enter downtown traffic today.”

Jim reflected.

“Well, you see,” he mused, “a big city nowadays is no longer a manufacturing city. It is a trading city. In a manufacturing city, or a city in which the dominant business is manufacturing, you get people of a different character entirely from the people of a trading city. You get people accustomed to decent and orderly procedure. They spend their daily lives making things, by step-to-step process. They are people with patient, orderly minds.”

“I can see that,” I agreed.

“But in a big city that has become a trading city,” went on Jim, “a city full of agents, brokers, dealers – you get a people sharply interested in making a nickel or a dime. And the way the nickels and dimes are made by traders is by being awful quick, awful nimble.”

“I see that too,” I admitted. “It’s like brokers making a fraction of one per cent on a deal. So they try to turn over as many deals as possible, to make the fractions of one per cent add up.”

“Nickels and dimes,” repeated Jim. “That’s what they are after in the big cities where trading is the dominant activity. And that is why, in a big city, the driving manners are bad. You accustom a man all day to being quick and nimble at making a big pile of nickels and dimes, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and the habit grows on him and takes hold of him. So that when he is driving home, after work, he can’t help but try all the little quick slick tricks, turns, dodges and jumps that he has been practising all day. Result: Traffic full of guys all trying to gain a few nickels and dimes over each other.”

“I think you’ve got something there, Jim,” I confessed. “But how the sam hill are we going to improve the driving manners of nearly a million people?”

“I don’t think it is our worry,” said Jim. “Things like that cure themselves. Our traffic is going to get denser and denser. The new cars will soon be coming out in quantity, adding to the jam. And the thicker the jam, the worse the manners will grow. Finally, in about two years, the keyed-up tempers of the driving public will snap. There will be duels all over the streets. Duels between cars. When somebody’s bad manners reach the zenith, in the midst of the ever-jamming traffic, another driver will simply smack into him. The custom will rapidly spread. All over the city, cars will be slamming into one another. Sideswiping each other. Chasing each other and driving each other into lamp posts. That’s the logical end to the present trend.”

“That’ll be kind of exciting,” I exclaimed.

“There are certain fundamental principles to human nature,” explained Jimmie, “and the first of them is, if you can get away with murder, why, you get away with it. No improvement in human behavior or human conduct, was ever brought about except as the result of a universal smashup. It isn’t enough for a few nice people to try to set an example to the mob. It isn’t enough for a few nice people, with ideals, to work out a system of good manners and try to impose it on the mass. We quit murdering each other, back about the year one, when there were so few of us left that we got scared and passed a law.”

“Well, you take New York,” I interrupted. I’ve been in all the big cities of the world Paris, London, Chicago and I say, without fear or favor, that the best driving manners in the world are in New York city.”

”That ain’t the way I heered it,” “scoffed Jim.

“No, because,” I cried, “for years New York’s driving manners were the world’s worst. They just about annihilated one another. There were more traffic fatalities in New York than anywhere else on earth. It worked out just the way you described, with those duels between cars. They got so bad that they just HAD to get good, in order to survive.”

Stacked in Solid

“The New York cops,” ventured Jim, “are pretty tough.”

“They are tough,” I explained, because they are watching the manners – not the driving – of the drivers. Just try any of the tricks that are tried on every street of Toronto every hour of the day and see what would happen to you in New York.”

“You certainly are irked, smiled Jim consolingly. “What happened to you today?”

“It was parking,” I muttered.

“What happened?” persisted Jim.

“Well,” I sighed heavily, “I must have spent 30 minutes driving round and round downtown, looking for a place to park. I went to the parking lot where I usually park and the cranky old autocrat who is the chief attendant waved me angrily off. The lot was packed absolutely solid with cars. At only 10 o’clock.”

“So?” helped Jim.

“So I drove around to another parking lot,” I continued, “and it was jam full. How they are going to unscramble those cars, I don’t know. They didn’t leave any aisles or avenues among the cars. Cars just stacked in solid.”

“That’s what gets me,” exclaimed Jimmie. “There don’t seem to be any rules governing those parking lots. So desperate are we in this city for parking space downtown that nobody has the nerve to suggest any rules to control the parking lots.”

“I bet,” I declared, “there is more damage done to the fenders and bodies of cars in Toronto on the parking lots than from any other cause whatsoever.”

“I agree,” said Jim. “But what can you expect, with those parking lot moguls being allowed to get away with murder?”

“I had my front left fender,” I submitted, “bashed all to pieces only last week in one of those indoor parking places. I thought I would play safe and not leave my car in one of those open-air madhouses. So I took it into an indoor parking place where an attendant takes the car from you at the door. At 5 o’clock they brought her down, with the left front fender all folded up.”

“But they didn’t get away with it?” demanded Jim.

“Sure they got away with it,” I cried. “They said, how did I know I didn’t bring it in that way? How did I know one of my children didn’t have it out the night before and bashed it all up? Did I go around the front, they asked me, when I got into the car in my own garage in the morning? Did I walk around to the front and look at my fenders?”

“Of course, you didn’t,” sympathized Jim.

“Nobody ever looks at their front bumper when they go and get their car out of their own garage in the morning.” I stated. “So they had me there. They asked me could I PROVE the damage had been done in their place.”

“Of course you couldn’t,” consoled Jim.

“They get away with murder,” I asserted. “They’ve got us where they want us. So desperate are we for a place to park, they can put anything they like over on us. I suppose we should be happy merely to get our cars back from them.”

There are too many of us,” said Jim sadly. “Too many motorists for the size of the city. I can see nothing but gloom ahead, in the traffic problem.”

“We can never expand the size of our streets,” I agreed, “fast enough to keep up with the number of people who will be buying cars. Toronto doubles its population every 20 years. Can you picture Toronto in another 20 years? Twice the number of cars in it there are now – AT LEAST!”

“It’s a dark prospect,” said Jim gloomily.

“Evils cure themselves,” I pointed out, “by destroying themselves. Downtown Toronto simply cannot by any stretch of the imagination, contain twice the traffic it contains today. Yet we know that in 20 years it will be twice as great.”

“So what?” asked Jim aghast.

“So it destroys itself,” I said complacently.

“Which?” inquired Jim. “The traffic or the downtown?”

“The downtown,” I submitted.

“I’d say the traffic,” plumped Jim.

“Why? I demanded.

“Because the traffic,” explained Jim, “is so much more easily destroyed than those big, fat buildings.”

“Well, something has to give,” I sighed.

“Can I drive home with you?” asked Jim. “I left my car at home this morning. Too much trouble to bring it downtown.”

“Ah, there’s the solution,” I cried. “It will become such a nuisance driving in downtown traffic that nobody will bring their cars.”

“What time are you leaving?” Jim asked.

“Fivish,” I replied.

And we returned to our chores.

Where’s My Car?

At 5, Jim and I sallied forth into the flood of home-goers and I guided him to the parking lot where I had left my car in the morning. It was a panjandrum. It had been packed so full, at 10 a.m., that I did not see how they were going to get my little open job in anywhere. But I was so glad they offered to try and I left it with them.

Now, at 10 past 5, the parking lot had the appearance of a solid sea of cars.

I paid my quarter to the chief attendant in the little shanty.

“Where do I find it?” I asked.

“How should I know?” replied the head man. “Go and look for it.”

Jim and I started along the aisles. I met another attendant, a red-haired, foolish-faced guy who seemed to be floating in a cloud.

“Where’s a little fawn-colored open job, with top down?” I asked him.

“Ha,” he cried, wheeling with alacrity. “I’ll get it. Been wanting to twirl that little baby all day!”

“No you don’t,” I cried, sprinting after him. “Not with these measly little aisles you’ve left in here!”

But he beat me to the open job and vaulted in behind the wheel.

“Wait a minute,” I warned. “Let me take her out…”

“We don’t allow the customers to move the cars,” he said, stepping on my starter and plunging the choke furiously.

“Come on, son, get out of there,” I commanded. “Don’t you move that car in here! Why, you haven’t left enough room for a wheelbarrow to turn.”

He ignored me and started to back, turning in the seat to watch behind with a gleeful, idiotic expression.

I reached in and turned off the ignition.

“Here!” I said, menacing. “Get out!”

And I opened the door. At which moment, another, older attendant, a loud-voiced, excited man, arrived and yelled:

“What’s the hold-up here?”

He explained, at the top of his lungs, that getting cars out of the ranks was a specialist’s job.

I was firm. I was adamant.

“Cars and contents,” I read to him from the wall of the little shanty, “left here at the owner’s risks. Okay I’m the owner. I’ll take the risk. Thank you.”

I backed. I was a little flushed. I was a little hot. And before I had so much as touched the accelerator, I went, with a dismal crunch, wham, bang into the solid bumper of a car in the next rank. I could feel my fender squishing.

There were shouts, there were imprecations, there were nit-wit chuckles from the red-headed kid.

“The motorists in this town,” bellowed the attendant in the red shirt, “are the worst lot of dopes anywhere in the world…”

He waved me out of my car. He took the wheel. He twisted, squirmed, inched, coiled and squeezed. He got my car out. He had made his 25 cents.

And I limped home with both front and back fenders squashed.


Editor’s Note: The word “panjandrum” does not make sense in this context, as it can refer to a self important person, but also had other meanings as a nonsense word. I see it used to describe a jumbled mess.

Lawnophobia!

May 11, 1946

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